Area cities regulate e-cigarette sales

More and more cities in Ramsey County are updating municipal tobacco ordinances to regulate the sale of electronic devices that deliver nicotine such as e-cigarettes. Products like e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but contain the same -- some times higher-- amount of nicotine found in regular cigarettes. People who use e-cigarettes often refer to it as “vaping,’ since the heated nicotine produces a vapor instead of smoke. 

A 2010 state law defines nicotine delivery devices, making them subject to the same rules as all tobacco products. But, it’s important for local governments to update city ordinances to align with state law to ensure vendors are licensed by the city in the same way as traditional tobacco retailers and to make sure minors do not have access to these products, Betsy Brock, research director for the Association of Nonsmokers Minnesota said.

Brock said cities in Ramsey County are ahead of the curve when it comes to amending municipal tobacco ordinances and regulating e-cigarettes. She said that at the manufacturing level, e-cigarettes are poorly regulated because manufacturers can say what’s in them and there is little, if any, monitoring. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cited a lack of quality control in manufacturing the products and reports finding inconsistent levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes than what is advertised.

“The big concern is that we don’t know what’s in them, they are not really regulated, and another big concern is that they are highly flavored, which can make them appealing to minors,” she said.

Local efforts

Cities like Mounds View, Little Canada and Falcon Heights recently amended municipal tobacco ordinances to add language used to describe electronic devices used to deliver nicotine, which makes products like e-cigarettes subject to the same rules as tobacco products. Falcon Heights also bars retailers from allowing store employees under the age of 18 from selling all tobacco and electronic vaping devices.

St. Anthony Village took it a step further last fall, when the city council voted to impose a 12-month moratorium on all sales and sampling at commercial establishments in the city. City Manager Mark Casey said the city wants to study electronic delivery devices like e-cigs over the next several months.

The city of Lauderdale will be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, March 25 prior to the city council’s vote on whether or not to change its tobacco code to define electronic nicotine devices, which would require retailers selling e-cigarettes and other such devices to obtain a standard tobacco license. City Administrator Heather Butkowski said she expects the council will adopt the resolution.

While some area cities have not amended municipal tobacco ordinances to specifically address e-cigarettes, most have reviewed them and have made other changes.

New Brighton Public Safety Director Bob Jacobson said the city council did a top-to-bottom review of the city’s tobacco ordinance about a year ago and outlawed the sampling of tobacco at hookah lounges. Hookah’s are water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco and have gained in popularity in many areas. There is a provision in the state’s 2007 law that bans indoor smoking in public establishments but still permits tobacco retailers to allow sampling of tobacco products inside of stores; however, a city has the ability to ban it within its own borders.

Many other cities have outlawed indoor sampling, including Roseville, St. Anthony Village and Shoreview.

“I think nearly every city is outlawing sampling. The new trend is what to do about e-cigarettes,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the topic has come up in discussion at city council meetings, but at this point there is not any talk of adding language regarding electronic nicotine delivery devices to the city’s municipal tobacco code.

“If it continues to gain popularity we will take a closer look at it,” he said.

Arden Hills City Administrator Patrick Klaers said the situation in the city is similar to New Brighton’s. The city updated its tobacco ordinance to prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors, but has not, as of yet, made any other changes.

“It’s on our radar, but we have not taken any action yet,” he said. “We are wrestling with it and hope to learn more. It would be nice if the state Legislature would step in.” 

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7824.

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